Joe Keithley (D.O.A.)
Contributed by johngentile, Posted by Interviews

After 35 years, DOA is coming to an end. Led by Joe Keithley, D.O.A. pounded out massive three chord punk jams during punk's first wave, released countless records, trail blazed tour routes across the Canada and as always, promoted their slogan "Talk - Action = 0."

Well, last year, Keithley really put his mouth where his money was, and ran for a NDP nomination… and he lost! But, not one to be deterred by temporary set backs, Keithley decided to draw DOA to an end in order to continue his political aspirations for the sole purpose of making a difference in his community.

Because DOA is, well, you know, one of the most important punk bands of all time, features editor John Gentile rang up Keithley in the great white north and they talked about the band's final release Welcome to Chinatown, politics, and that one time DOA almost brawled with The Clash.

Why are you hanging up DOA now?

You know what; I've done a lot with DOA. We've accomplished a lot. Thirteen, fourteen great records. We've done about a couple hundred benefit shows for great people, great causes. We've met a lot of great people. With DOA, my intention was to go out and try to make the world a better place. That was always my intention, since I was 18, or 19.

I think I've done that with the band, as much as possible. So, now, I'm trying to do that with politics. If I get elected to office, which I have not been yet, just to be clear, then I'll do that. That's a long answer. Just to continue that, it doesn't mean that I won't play music, or write music, or make records. I'll still continue to do that if elected into office. I take a lot of inspiration from a guy like Pete Seeger.

Are you sad that DOA is ending?

Uh… of course, DOA has been a great thing. The coolest thing about being in the band is the camaraderie of the whole thing. The experiences you have together, the good shows, the bad shows. You laugh about stuff. Maybe you got ripped off or screwed over, that kind of thing. It's kind of about the experience. That kind off the thing makes life fun. But, I'm not really sad. I'm a forward looking person.

Your last release while DOA is still active will be the live album Welcome to Chinatown. Do you see that as a document of the band at the end or more of a retrospective?

It's a bit of a summary, in a sense. We did three shows spaced out over about a year and a half. It wasn't all over one night. We took a selection of songs, a lot of early songs, some from the mid period, about three or four from the last few releases. We don't do ever songs because that would be like a six album set. It's a good summation because Chinatown is where we started in Vancouver. Rehearsing for our punk shows in Chinatown- that's where punk rock started in Vancouver.

Do you have any particular memories of playing punk shows in Vancouver?

There was an old place, a block away - the home of punk rock. The equivalent of Vancouver's CBGB's, The Smiling Buddha. It had a neon sign out front. Vancouver's oldest cabaret and Vancouver's scummiest cabaret. It was in a really run down, violent, drug strewn area of Vancouver. We had a lot of memorable shows there. We played there like a lot. Like 40 times.

I remember one time the police came. They came in the back door. The main police station was about half a block from the venue, which was really convenient for them when they wanted to come down and arrest all the punks. We had oversold the place. We were supposed to have about 125 people in there, but we snuck in people in the back so there were about 250 people there. We were playing and I looked down the back and the police were coming and people started calling, "Fuck you! Fuck you!" and the police looked at each other and hustled out the back. That was great because it was just the voices of the people that got the police out of there.

You've mentioned that you've model your career after Pete Seeger numerous times. Can you talk about that?

If any of your readers don't know, Pete Seeger was a big pop star and thought to be socialist leaning, so he got blackballed off the radio in the 50's in America. He came back, and he had a lot to do with the revitalization of folk music. More importantly to me, the revitalization of protest music. During the 1960's and the buildup of the Soviet Union, that guy still keeps playing. If you've got a protest event, that guy just shows up with his banjo. The main thing is that he keeps going. He's getting a little old now, but I'm sure he can play a few songs. That's the main thing. The never-say-die attitude. That's what I take out of him.

It seems that both you and I have respect for artist with longevity, as opposed to flash-in-the-pan groups.

It's an amazing thing. He had a rough road. He was played all the time on the radio, and then he wasn't played at all when they banned The Weavers. He kept going. He made banjo instructional videos. He just toughed it out. Paul Robeson is another guy from that era. Basically, people that will keep at it and keep developing their art and they won’t give up. They move with the times and keep going.

If you have a certain style of music, you don't change the style. Some bands, you say "that was popular in the 1990s" and now it sounds really dated. You see that in lots of kinds of music. I think that's why DOA has had longevity. We've been forward thinking and progressive.

We didn't really change the sound of the band per se. It's your basic punk rock band, with loud guitar, loud drums, and lot of angry lyrics. Humor too. Because we were forward looking and progressive is why we lasted as long as we did. There's a certain sense of nostalgia, but because we keep moving forward, we're not seen as a nostalgia act, which can be the most deadly thing that can happen to you when you're playing music.

I heard that in your local election, when you were running for the NDP nomination, you lost to Chris Wilson, a former Olympic wrestler, by a measly five votes!

Yeah. It was a race to win the nomination for one party in that riding. What I was riding for is equivalent to a state congressperson, for British Columbia. The funny thing is that the party I was trying to run for is progressive, but they thought that I was little too progressive. So, they put the fix in at the end and didn't want me to get the nomination. They really tried to help my opponent. He went on to proceed to lose that election, which I don't think I would have lost.

Man, that is brutal! I mean, all that guy ever did was wear spandex and lay on top of people. Joe, you've been speaking three chords and the truth for 35 years!

Ha ha ha! Thanks for that, John. Yeah, what can you do? I think if I can delve into this- one of the big things that I want to do is get young people to vote and have a sense of street democracy. I think this is really prevalent in your country and places around the world is that people do not trust politicians, or they don't believe that they' get anything that the politicians promised to do.

I want to get people involved and make them feel they have a say in their community. These are people you get elected to make a better life for you. Half the time these elected people don't do that. I would try to get the younger people to feel that they do have a voice. It's amazing that people over 30, 70 percent vote. People under 30, only 30 percent vote. Who gets more a say? Older people.

Here's the deal. When I grew up, there was a big arms race build up between us and the Soviet Union. So, we got involved protesting. We got involved in rock against racism. Different causes that we thought were worthy. We went out and raised hell, and tried to stop stuff that was terrible. We were really activists. That's why the punk rock thing happened at the right time. I could have played any other kind of music, but this attached itself to music- to this protest music that was about trying to change the world. It worked out… not perfectly… but it coalesced together at the same time. I feel a lot of young people feel they can't have an effect - not all, because there are some great activists out there in their teens and 20s. There are a lot people out there trying to make a change.

Are you going to continue your political aspirations?

Absolutely; I ran for the green party a few times. One time for the MVP. I may run for the city council in my hometown called Burnaby. It's next to Vancouver. It is a quarter million people. Maybe that's the next step. Start at the city level. Change really does start in your own neighborhood.

You've talked about the famous DOA slogan "Talk - Action = 0" before. But, at this juncture in your career, what does it now mean to you?

You have to take a stand in life. I'm not necessarily talking about a picket line or trying to stop everything you don't like. People really think change comes from big government, big media, big unions, big business, right? The problem is that, all the people in big business, big media, they really just look at polls and see what people think. So, if people could get together with an idea about the things they want to change, they could make a change.

This is one of the big things that I'm about, is people power. It's a bit of a morph of the John Lennon song. People have a lot more power then they realize. They are conned into thinking that they don't, only big business and media have the power. That's kind of the "talk - action =0" means. That's why we use it. A good example is the fall of the Soviet Union and the wall on East Germany. That happened because people came out and protested every day, and it got larger and larger. That came down in two weeks, because all of a sudden people weren't afraid. With Vietnam, it wasn't Gerald Ford that ended the war. It was farmers, school teachers, mechanics, and they thought it was immoral. So the politicians eventually said okay, and they stopped it.

You're a big fan of the Clash, but you guys didn't actually get along, right?

Yeah, it was an odd thing. Big, big fans. The first time they came to Vancouver, they came out to our local park where we had our local soccer game and they played soccer with us. The third or second time they came to Vancouver, we got the opening spot and we were really thrilled about it. It was out in Saskatoon. So we flew out there on our own dime to do it. I think we got paid $100 to open for them. We didn't care. Money wasn't the important thing.

We got pissed off, because we wanted to sound check, but Mick Jones had this little kid up there, showing him how to play drums, how to play piano, so we never got a chance to sound check in a big huge place and I don't think we ever played anything that big before.

So, we just got kind of into a beef with them, backstage. It was kind of funny, because The Clash were one of the greatest bands. But, I'm a rather tall guy, and I didn't realize how short they were. So, I kind of towered over all of them. So, I kind of blocked their entrance and glared over them when they went to go play the show. I didn't beat them up or anything. I wouldn't do anything stupid like that. I semi-threatened them in a way. Mick Jones afterwards was quoted by a newspaper friend of mine, "DOA, oh yeah, that little heavy metal band. They sucked. They'll never play with us again." But I'm still a big fan.

But you did get along with the Ramones, right?

Yeah, I actually became, not close friends, but pretty good pals with Johnny. Those guys were great. We played with them five times. Those guys were terrific. In the same vein, you think of the really great bands, The Clash, The Ramones, they would be in upper echelon having made tons of great albums and done tons of great shows. I'd love to see them play again but obviously that's not going to happen.

Ian Mackaye often tells a story where DOA played a high school gymnasium, and it inspired him to "always make the gig."Do you remember that show?

Yeah, I do. It was in suburban Washington DC. Like in Arlington. We're driving through the 'burbs. It's one of those things, like in the Blues Brothers when they're driving through the country and they can't find the venue. They find "Bob’s Country Bunker." "Are you sure you know where the venue is?" "Yeah, it's right over there."

We pull up to the venue and it's a high school, and we're like "ah fuck!" We set up and played to about 150 kids and it was great. Ian's band played. Henry Rollins' band played and they completely rocked and we went back next year and played the same school. The funny thing was on the way over we were like, "Who the fuck booked this?" We were laughing about it the whole way over.